“The Story of the Alley Mite”
This is what most people glimpse when the rare Alley Mite is near: merely a spidery shadow on the side of a building that is soon forgotten.
The Pacific Northwest is still an American frontier. The region harbors rich and diverse environments. Many known species are still studied to learn the secrets of their survival. New species undoubtedly await discovery in the dense rain forests, still unexplored acres surrounding the Olympic and Cascade mountain ranges, and the vast plains of Washington State’s great Eastern region. Among the abundant natural wonder, human expansion has altered the environment in dramatic ways. The city of Seattle washed away entire hills to create the topography it rests over, today. Further development erased part of its original shoreline. Tracts now dominated by industrial shipping facilities once harbored a brackish, swamp ecology. One of this habitat’s displaced species could be considered the Puget Sound’s answer to the land crab. Its history is a remarkable tale of adaptation and survival.
The eerie creature was rare even when the Pacific Native American Nations were the dominant, ecologically adapted human population. Native lore said the large arthropod fed off the substance of the spirit world. This description came from observations in luminous mist. It hinted at the creatures’ unusual ability to sustain itself. That unique trait is seemingly ethereal, even with scientific understanding. Non-native pioneers called the spindly creatures “Forest Striders” (a name similar to “Water Striders”) or more accurately, “Swamp Spiders.” Today, their descendants are called “Alley Mites.” There are other less printable names used by electricians due to their unique feeding habits.
- A rare event: an exposed Alley Mite is seen fleeing its discovery up a downspout.
With the destruction of its original environment, it’s remarkable the creature still exists. Its modern appearance (see associated photos) suggests it was born from the industrial age. It also shows the species’ remarkable adaptive traits. Meager historic notes, Pacific Native American lore, and modern science have all been used to backtrack the Alley Mites’ swift evolution into life that is, perhaps, even better suited to the urban landscape than the humans who built it. While resembling octopus, they are more closely related to arachnids, and specifically mites. Their long legs and ability to climb walls invites comparison to spiders. As arthropods, Alley Mites are, naturally, exothermic (“cold blooded”). Their body temperature is the same as their external environment. This is true of lizards, as well as the other exoskeletal species, such as true spiders, insects, and all known arthropod species.
Alley Mites have a trait unique among arthropods. They can draw heat from the absorption of static charges. Further adaptation allows this transfer of energy directly for metabolic benefit. The trait evidently developed in the swamplands by exploiting the same release of energy that causes luminescence in swamp gasses. (This was gave rise to such myths as “will-o-the wisp” and other supernatural interpretations.) The little known Alley Mite possess what is described as an electrobolic adaptation. They are true electrovores.
An Alley Mite is seen taking a feeding position along electrical wires strung over, yes, an alleyway.
With the continued destruction of their coastal environment, many Swamp Spiders (Electropoda stagnum) fled the swamplands for the forest. Their brackish habitats were completely destroyed in the 20th century. The original, costal species became extinct in the 1940s. The populations of these electrovore arthropods, or electropods, were always small. Still, enough of them moved higher into the alpine regions the save the genus. These survivors became true Forest Striders (E. silvestris). They adapted to the lush, evergreen ecology and found another source of heat and energy suited to their electrobolic system. The Pacific woodlands are interspersed by alpine swamps and pondlands created by the same glaciers that carved the Puget Sound. In some of these aquatic systems live bioluminescent algae and bacteria that cause the occasionally brilliant “forest auras” or “mountain aurora” effects. (A section of Seattle’s Highway 99 still bears the name Aurora.) In the electropods’ original swamp habitat, they exploited the electrostatic charge from the reactions of released gasses. In their new, evergreen environment, the alga and bacteria were the source. Even though this biochemical reaction provided less energy, it was enough to perpetuate the electrovore adaptation. It would be an important step in Forest Strider becoming the Alley Mite once the electron revolution became part of the Industrial Age.
Continued human changes to the environment created a source of energy for urban expansion in the Pacific Northwest, and also the arthropods they had nearly made extinct. This came with the construction of the vast system of hydro-electric dams. These dams generated electricity for industry and individuals (and at least one folk song by Woody Guthrie). They also attracted the Forest Strider. More than once the aggregation of the leggy animals fouled dynamos and transmission equipment. This lead to costly repairs and repeated curses. Wire screens and hunters’ bounties kept them at bay, but again nearly extinguished the species. It is a historical irony that the hydro-electric dams spurred the electrobolic adaptation to become more efficient among the survivors. This would prove advantageous to exploit a plentiful source of energy in another, new environment down river. Populations of the remarkable arthropods returned to the shores of the Puget Sound, inside the very city whose construction nearly caused their doom.
Here the typically docile electropod is seen assuming a defensive posture when hit with the bright flash from a camera.
Inside Seattle’s urban corridors, the electropods became Electropoda urbanensis, or more commonly, the Alley Mite. Much like raccoons, the electropods have adapted well to the dense city environment. For the Alley Mite, the journey is a full circle. The large arthropods live almost unknown by the Emerald City’s people. Their unique ability to siphon electricity makes them at times a pest to electricians and building owners. However, their low numbers means they will never be as dangerous as the many types of vermin, or as destructive as termites. Of the few times people have encountered Alley Mites, they always retreat from conflict, even though they are fairly large and spider like. They may freeze to avoid detection and be confused with actual electrical structures. If this fails, they escape to sanctuaries high and away from the most curious humans. There are only a few recorded unfortunate incidents. These have mostly been impacts with early morning delivery vans. When a van accidentally hits an Alley Mite with any part other than the tires, the discharge can damage the vehicle’s electrical system. In at least in one such incident, it also caused a sharp jolt to the driver a little stronger than caffeine.
The only other potential negative effects of the creatures’ presence may be in the mind of the overly superstitious. If someone hears scratching on the outside walls of a condo, apartment, or hotel room, it may not be a supernatural creature from myth come to haunt you. It may simply be an Alley Mite on its way to charge itself on the same supply that your phone or tablet eats. And they’ve been doing it for far longer. Electropods are a remarkable species, and a typifying example of punctuated equilibrium. Alley Mites show that adaptation is a hope for survival of many species. One can only hope that they future is bright for both Homo sapiens and Electropoda urbanensis. The Swamp Spider, E. stagnum may be forever lost. It is hoped that the Forest Strider, E. silvestris still thrives somewhere in the deep woods (as well as the mind of one Speculative Fiction writer, who once found himself in a city alleyway with a camera, late one night).